Sunday, 29 September 2013

Hospice Belladonna II

Leonard explained the patient he had to her, and Hannah listened.  From time to time she nodded, but she never interrupted and didn’t ask questions.  Only when he’d finished speaking did she finally speak back to him.
“Matson is right,” she said.  “Your patient will be here for a different reason to the others, and while I don’t have a problem with that, I think they might.”
“Who are they?”
“The other patients,” said Hannah.  “Matson hasn’t quite told you everything about the Silver Carillon.  It steals senses, just as he says, but we’re certain now that it does so by creating a copy of the patient in a pocket dimension somewhere.  Each time they lose a sense it’s transferred to the copy of them living in this pocket dimension, and the final chime is when they transfer over there completely.  Then there’s nothing really living left in this world, just the body they were inhabiting while they were here, and that’s now vacant.”
“So you keep it alive while you search for a way to bring them back?” asked Leonard, though he wasn’t really listening to the answer.  It was obvious how the hospice worked.
“No,” said Hannah.  “We destroy the body.  There are other things out there,” she waved a hand heavenwards as vague as though she were describing the general cloud formations.  “That would like to take up residency in a body in this time.  We can’t take those kinds of risks, especially not with the scholars of the Silver Carillon.  They generally know things that it would be better not to let get out.”
“Destroy?”  Leonard looked shocked, finding it hard to believe that he’d heard what she said properly.
“Yes, we usually incinerate it.  There’s a bio-waste facility in the basement; it’s part of the tour if you’d like to take it.”
“That’s barbaric!”
“It is necessary, Leonard.”  She emphasised his name.  “Losing a mind is an easy thing to do.  If we find a way to bring my scholars back, then finding bodies for them to inhabit will be the easy part.”
They sat in silence for a moment, and Leonard looked around the room while his mind raced with the implications of what he’d just heard.  This hospice actively killed people when they reached what they considered a terminal stage.  Was that illegal, or just unethical?  He noticed a pile of magazines on an occasional table and wondered if there was a trade journal for euthanasia.
“Until they reach that stage,” said Hannah, breaking the silence at last, and trying to make eye contact.  Leonard let his gaze slide back to the magazines.  “The other patients appear to know about each other in this pocket dimension.  We think that they must situated together, and as their senses transfer over they see more and more of each other, but it becomes harder and harder for us to talk to them and reach them.  Your patient won’t be in that world with them, so he won’t make the same connection, and they’ll know he’s different.  That might cause problems.”
“You mean they won’t like him?  You make this sound like trying to keep dogs who’ve not met before together.”
“It kind of is,” said Hannah, and there was a sudden gentleness in her voice.  “These are very sick people, Leonard, who are undergoing a profoundly difficult transition.  It might even be a lethal one.  But they are, to some extent, doing it together.  Putting a man in with them who isn’t part of that might not be good for him, might not be good for them.  Is that a chance we can take?”
Leonard sat there, shaking his head.  “I don’t know,” he admitted.  “I need to know enough about this place to make that decision though.  I think it’s mine to make.”
“I don’t think anyone will want to take it off you,” said Hannah.  She stood up.  “Shall we begin the tour then?”

Friday, 27 September 2013

Hospice Belladonna I

Leonard walked past the Hospice three times before finding it.  It was behind a simple door in what appeared to be a row of terraced houses on a residential street.  There were numbers of some of the doors, but not all of them, though he realised that in hindsight he should have paid more attention to the house with the nameplate that read Shipwreck House.  The houses’s doors opened directly onto the street; there was no garden or front path, just the cracked and gum-marked pavement, and a bus-stop across the road with a shelter missing a panel of plastic.  The windows in the houses were grey and reflected the cloudy sky without betraying any of the secrets of what might lie inside.  A strand of greying ivy struggled up the wall about a third of the way along, looking ready to give up and die if the weather turned nasty.  Leonard finally counted numbers until he worked out which was was 113, and stopped at an Institutional Green front door, still struggling to believe that this could be the front door to an exclusive hospice.  It took him a minute to convince himself that he’d counted right and that this must be the address he’d been given, and then he knocked, slightly hesitantly, on the door.
Nothing happened for a moment except for a bus going by behind him, all black exhaust, grumbling engine and the whine of a slipping fan-belt.  Then the bus was gone leaving behind the acridity of burning oil, and he heard brisk footsteps.  A bolt snapped back, and a chain rattled.  The door opened, and a youngish woman with a scarf over her hair and sunglasses on regarded him from the doorway.
“No junk mail, no pamphlets from any God, and no peddlers,” she said.  “And if you’re a tradesman I don’t recognise you but the entrance is round the side and if you don’t know that you better get yourself back to your depot and talk to them.”
“I’m Leonard,” said Leonard, offering his hand.  The woman seemed to ignore it, but the sunglasses concealed her eyes completely.  She could have been looking at in with horror.
“I don’t want any,” she said.  She stepped backwards, the door swinging closed towards him.
“I’ve got a letter of authority,” he said, fumbling in his coat pocket.  “From Matson.”
The door stopped with less than an inch to go before being closed completely, and opened again.  The woman stepped forward and held out her hand without saying a word.  Leonard fumbled some more, trying to pull an envelope out that had gone in smoothly when he left the office; finally he pulled it free and realised that it had turned sideways in his pocket.  He thrust it at the woman who opened it and read it as carefully as though he’d announced that he was an angel from God returning the galley-copies of the Bible with some edits that needed making.  He tried to ignore the rankling in the back of his mind that his name had elicited no worthwhile reaction but that Matson’s clearly had.
“Come in,” said the woman, holding the letter and envelope out to him to take back.  He did, and went in.  He closed the door behind him and found himself in a long, narrow hallway with grey-painted walls and chipped skirting boards.  The woman was already half-way along it, so he hurried a little to catch up.  He noticed that he was passing doors on both sides, which suggested that the terraced houses might have been knocked into each other beyond the front-doors.  The corridor ended in a doorway that led out into a spacious kitchen that was cool and empty, and he was walked briskly through there and out into a glass-roofed conservatory.  The woman gestured at a woven armchair and sat down on a three-legged stool in the centre of the room.  She slipped the sunglasses off, and Leonard noticed that her eyes were bright and a lustrous blue.
“I’m Hannah,” she said after he’d sat down.  “I’m the nurse here at the hospice, though at the moment I’m the cook and the cleaner as well because there aren’t so many patients in.  If we get more patients we’ll hire more staff; it’s not a big deal.  It’s just that there’s not a lot to do when numbers are as low as they are.”
“Right,” said Leonard.  “Right.  I think I’m here to talk about a possible patient, though I’m not sure how possible.”
“Oh everyone’s possible,” said Hannah, allowing a faint smile to touch her un-made-up lips.  “It’s just whether it’s the right time or not.”

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


In the old stories, Medusa was a Gorgon, one of three sisters with wings, terrifying, tusked visages, and serpentine tresses of hair.  She was also the only mortal amongst them, which explains quite simply how Perseus was able to cut her head off and flee with it, pursued by her angry sisters.  But most tellingly she had the ability to turn people and animals that she looked at to stone, a near-instant petrification that should have kept her safe from would-be assassins and attackers.
In modern stories, told quietly around formica-topped tables in fluorescent-lit canteens by scientists – mostly women now – in white coats, MEDUSA was the name of a tactical weapon that had been devised one hundred and fifty years earlier that achieved the same trick.  Point it at a living target and depress the shutter button, and it would petrify the target instantaneously.  But, as with all technologies, it outdid its inspiration more by oversight than intent.  The range of MEDUSA was orders of magnitude higher than that of Medusa, and it took twenty years of extremely careful research to work out why.  The research notes were now kept in a secure room in a bunker below ground that was guarded by three different security forces and had seven heavily fortified doors to pass through to reach it, and the last room before the notes was filled with statues.  Only they weren’t statues, of course, they were people who had been turned to stone in the course of the MEDUSA project.  Some of them had even been petrified intentionally.
The answer, it turned out, was a guide wave, a specific length of light in the electromagnetic spectrum that was somehow piggybacked on by the petrification ray.  In daylight, candlelight, or most equispectral sources of light there was barely enough of that wavelength to support the ray and the limits of human vision were a good indicator of the range.  In fact, there were good reasons for believing that the original Medusa would probably have appeared rather short-sighted and certainly couldn’t have stood on a mountain-top and petrified a city below her.  But MEDUSA had no such short-comings and a simple laser provided a strongly-focused source of guide-waves and as much range as you could sustain the laser-light for.
By the time that that was understood a period of intense paranoia had already broken out among the four major civilisations and the MEDUSA device had been weaponised and deployed; in some cases it was hand-held guns, in others it was larger, vehicle-mounted weapons.  Phalakos, City of the Beautiful, had a wall-mounted weapon that was capable of focusing on a row of men one-hundred across and forty deep.  There was much talk, much posturing, and a lot of near-misses before the tension was finally relieved by assassination, corruption and persuasion.  The weapons were gathered back in, dismounted from walls and tanks, and dismantled to be stored in boxes on the shelves of military bunkers.  “As a deterrant.”  “Just in case.”  And people returned to their everyday tasks.
What seemingly no-one remembered, or no-one had properly known in the first place, is that Phalakos had had a back-up device in case the wall-mounted one failed.  They had converted the telescope in the Crown Observatory to a MEDUSA device, giving themselves the longest-ranged weapon on the planet, though someone unwieldy and slow to manoeuvre.  It was rediscovered when it was turned on, and a MEDUSA ray fired from the telescope into the night sky at a planet one hundred light-years distant.
There was nothing the people could do to stop the ray, which was travelling at the speed of light out into the rarefied gases of space.  Calculations were done and redone, and the diffusion and spread of the beam were checked and re-checked.  All the results came out the same.  When the beam struck the planet it would still be energetic enough to petrify the entire face of it.
Phalakos executed everyone they could find with any association to the MEDUSA project.  Their streets ran red with blood and the corpses were piled up waist high in the morgues for two weeks before they could all be processed.  They issued a very public apology and pictures of what they’d done, which was immediately viewed as an atrocity by the other civilisations.  War broke out within a few days and MEDUSA weapons re-enabled and redeployed.  Millions died.
When the dust settled the survivors came out and looked at the dead; most of it turned to stone and cluttering the place up and agreed to unilaterally disarm the MEDUSA weapons.  They wondered briefly if there was anyway to save the unnamed, unknown planet one hundred light years distant, but the lives lost in the war included most of their scientists and the population losses had set them back nearly one hundred and fifty years in terms of technology and manufacturing capability.  They had little choice but to accept that the planet would probably die.
The MEDUSA ray was calculated to strike four weeks ago.  All that’s left to do is wait for light from the event to reach Phalakos, and the people will understand what they have wrought in a way they’ve not had the opportunity for before.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Zero Hour

Zero hour

A sudden chill –

Is it just cold air or has
the long winter fallen at last?
The news was three days ago,
there's been no signal since.
Only endless static,

Aimee's sick

with worry that the plants
won't grow. She stands and rants,
her fists clenched, her face red.
Trying to hide the dread
of endless static.


with the luxury and the power
to look back, will call it Zero Hour.
When angry men ignored their fears
And set us back a thousand years.
And in the endless static
find Electromagnetic

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Clouds in the coffee

Major Cadwaller had drawn the short-straw again and been despatched to visit Madame Sosotris.  There had been an usually wide-spread outbreak of illness in the barracks, and he’d been the only person, his Commanding Officer told him, who was considered healthy enough to risk sending near someone as often ill as Madame Sosotris.  Major Cadwaller was extremely suspicious about this outbreak, especially as he’d seen several of the supposedly afflicted men drinking in the Officer’s Mess a couple of nights ago, and they’d seem hale and hearty enough then.  He suspected that there was an office network he was missing out on, and that was the one that let people know when Madame Sosotris duty was coming up again.
Madame Sosotris made it part of the conditions of the reading that the army buy her dinner, and the last time the Major had sat through a bizarre three-course meal where Madame Sosotris had coughed into her soup and then read the future from it; then taken her dentures out to more thoroughly enjoy her boiled beef, and finally slurped a Bakewell tart that the Major hadn’t considered slurpable.  At the end of the meal the Maître d’ had politely requested that he never return, and he’s quite liked the restaurant as well.  So this time he’d picked a place that had a fairly filthy reputation around the barracks and was stood outside, waiting for Madame Sosotris, wondering if he’d made quite the right choice.
She arrived wearing a dress that went out of fashion twenty-years ago and would have been twenty years too young for her then.  The ensemble, together with the inartfully applied makeup and forgotten hairdo, said more harlot than houri, and suggested that she would be cheap only because she’d forget that you hadn’t already paid when you came to leave.  Major Cadwaller wondered how badly you’d hate yourself after that experience, and didn’t feel even remotely guilty for having these thoughts.
“I’d not have had you pegged as knowing about the sign of the tongue,” said Madame Sosotris, her voice still screechy and creaky.  She sniffed; her perennial nasal drip was present.  “My word, no-one’s taken me here for years!”
“People used to take you here?” asked Major Cadwaller, more than a little shocked.  The bar’s reputation had shocked him when the other men at the barracks had told him about it, laughing a lot as they did so.  The idea that a woman might come here on a date was slightly appalling.
“I used to insist,” said Madame Sosotris smugly.  “It was the most jumping joint in the whole of the Unreal City.  I met the most amazing people here, and we made art together.  We drank the ridiculous things that we found in the bottles, and we chased each other around the tables and under the chairs.  They were the best nights I’ve ever had.”  She shifted her weight slightly and assumed the most blatantly sexual stance that Major Cadwaller had ever seen and her eyes unfocused slightly as she dwelled on her memories.
“Uh, I think they might be full,” he said, his courage deserting him.
“Nonsense!” said Madame Sosotris returning to the present.  She grinned, showing too few teeth for the Major’s comfort, and leaned in the doorway.  “Room for a little one?” she yelled.
“Is that all he’s got?” came back the response from a voice that might have been a woman with a thyroid problem or a man with no balls.  “Bring him on it then and we’ll see if can’t fix that!”  Laughter rolled around the bar, and Madame Sosotris grabbed Major Cadwaller’s hand and dragged him in.
The general ribbing died down after twenty minutes, and Major Cadwaller sat down at the table he’d reserved while Madame Sosotris continued to hob-nob at the bar.  He was relieved to be sitting down, as the huge bartender behind the bar had pulled his pants down around his ankles twice while he was trying to explain that he had a dinner reservation, and each time the room had burst into laughter.  He hoped it was because his boxers had yellow smiley faces on them (he thought they looked happy) and not because of Madame Sosotris’s earlier unfortunate comment.  He picked up the menu, which was so wet it fell apart in his hands and landed on the table in a pile of soggy, illegible cardboard.
Madame Sosotris sat down suddenly next to him, with a cup of coffee in her hands.  “Don’t worry about the food, lad,” she said.  “Bringing me in here again after all these years is more than enough for your reading.  I’ve missed these people, you know.  They told me that three of my paintings from years ago still exist, you know?  How exciting is that?”
“I do know,” said Major Cadwaller, briskly.  “We have them.”
“Do you now?  Well, all I’m going to say is that you better not be keeping them in the same room if they’re not covered up, Mr. General.  And that my price next time might be seeing them again myself.”
“That could be arranged,” said Major Cadwaller, leaping at the chance to avoid having to take Madame Sosotris out to dinner.  “Hang on, what do you mean–“
“Look dearie,” said Madame Sosotris, punching his shoulder and pointing in the coffee cup.  Major Cadwaller peered at it.
“What am I looking at?”
Madame Sosotris’s voice suddenly took on a crisp, clear quality and cut through the noise in the room like a newly sharpened knife.
“Two thrones will incarnate in one man, and the City’s foundations will tremble.  The Drowned Sailor will walk into conflict with his eyes averted and will bring with him a child of nine.  There shall be a re-sorting in Heaven and the Earth will reflect its glory.  The last man standing will choose their new home.”
Major Cadwaller looked around.  The bar was silent, and everyone was listening to Madame Sosotris’s prophecy, which was definitely a breach of the rules for these matters.
“Are you sure?” he asked, lamely, hoping to sow doubt in the minds of the other listeners, but the chorus of snorts and vocal shrugs assured him that he’d failed.  Of course she was sure.  She was the best Clairvoyant in the City.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Laboutrou II

Laboutrou is a foot-fetish bar, though I confess I didn’t know this straight-away and had to look it up on the internet.  They serve food and inadequately-clad women with elegant feet and have a bar that looks well-stocked from the pictures, though the feet and ankles, often supported in stilettos, rather obscure the picture and made it hard for me to figure out what I thought the food might be like.  Plain, I suspected.  Simple stuff, probably cooked ok.  Nothing special, but then it would still be much better than the place from last night, and it would give me a review to turn in.  My editor might frown a little, but I could point out (gently, of course) that this just supported diversity and recognised that we draw our readership from all walks of life.  Which is largely bull; people will read it because they’re curious that we’ve got the gall to tell them that such a place exists, and the cojones to go there and find out what it’s like.  And as “Jim the Sales guy” knows, some of them will be curious, or desperate, enough to go there themselves “for the food” and then he’s got customers for life.  Or at least until they move on to something a little more hard-core.
I turned up wearing my suit and realised that I was little overdressed.  The bar had seats at the bar and at well spaced tables, and a catwalk of sorts ran through the whole room.  There were two girls out on the catwalk with long, elegant legs and limited clothing, and the tables closest to the catwalk were all already taken.  The only two that were empty had Reserved signs prominently displayed.  Most of the people in there were men, clad in denim jeans and flannel shirts or heavy-cotton t-shirts and paid no attention to anyone coming in.  There was a stag party, judging from the costumers (two cows, a sheep, an inflatable sheep with sunglasses, a fox, and a Santa Claus because there’s always one guy who doesn’t understand that there’s a theme or can’t be bothered to hire the right kind of costume), and there were a couple of women here and there.  That surprised me a little, and then I realised that I had no right to be surprised.  The bar advertised its food, with the foot as optional, so there was no reason for women to feel like this was a male-only space.
The maître’d took one look at me and ushered me over to my seat the bar without asking my name.  I raised an eyebrow and he nodded – I was seriously overdressed.  I slipped my tie off and into my pocket, but the room didn’t seem like anywhere I wanted to risk an expensive jacket ending up on the floor.
“What’ll it be, then, dude?” asked a bartender, seemingly appearing out of nowhere.  He looked me up and down.  “Brandy sends her regards, she’s ill tonight.  Got toe flu.”
I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t control the smirk.  The bartender caught it.
“Yeah,” he sighed.  “Everyone laughs dude, go ahead.  It’s a real thing though, when you’re parading your feet around like they do all night five nights a week.  Occupational hazard.  You can ask your doctor.”
I managed to get the smirk under control and turn it into what I hoped was a friendly grin.  “Right,” I said.  “It’s fine, sorry.  In my line of work you get all kinds of odd digestive ailments from time to time that people don’t believe are real either.”
“I don’t want to hear about that dude, that’s disgusting!  You eating or not?”
Toe flu fine for dinner conversation but Montezuma’s Revenge wasn’t?  Well actually, he might have a point there.  I picked up the menu and scanned it: bar food seemed about the right description.
“Chicken strippers, onion rings,…” I rattled off seven items and then turned to the drinks list.  To my surprise all the beers listed were local or described as craft.  After several moments of indecision I realised that I’d already ordered enough food for two, so I ordered three different beers as well.  The bartender looked a little stunned.
“All for you, right?  ‘Cos you can’t feed the girls.”
I blinked as the image of little signs dotted around the catwalk reading “Do not feed the models” swam before my vision, and then it was gone again.  “All for me,” I agreed.  “Part of the job.”
And here, dear reader, is the crux of the matter.  The food that arrived was so good that I was oblivious to the girls wandering around the room for the rest of the two hours that I was there.  There could have been two hobbits chasing Gollum for all I knew or cared, but that food was incredible.  The chicken strippers were little juicy goujons of delight coated in a delicate batter that was expertly seasoned and spiced and delivered on the promise that the Colonel made for a distinctly different piece of chicken.  The onion rings weren’t slimy, they were crisp on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside; there was a creaminess to them that I eventually got the chef to reveal was a soubise that the onions were dipped in before they were battered and fried.  The beers took a bit of working out, but eventually I figured which to pair with which foods and my mouth was rapturous about it.  The whole evening was so far removed from the one two days ago that it was hard to believe that I could find two such different establishments in the same city.
When I got home, the Blonde was sitting in the living room with the television off and her lips pur

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Laboutrou I

The phone rang while I was staring at a blank piece of paper so I answered it immediately.  It had barely had a chance to start its electronic imitation of a ringing bell for the second time before I was barking “Hello?” into it, anxious to be drawn away from the writer’s block that was plaguing me.
In all fairness though, it wasn’t entirely my fault that the muse had abandoned me and was lounging around on some other writer’s couch, her cigarette dangling loosely from the corner of her slightly slack, over-lipsticked mouth, her dress falling indiscreetly off one shoulder and her mussed hair covering half her face in a way that would have made the head-chef at Borridges bite through his wooden spoon and declare a fifty-percent off special for the next hour.  The restaurant that I’d been sent to the previous evening was as dull as the soup they served and as tired as the meat in the main course.  I’d struggled to stay awake through dessert, and the food sat heavily both in my stomach and on my mind.  I had to write about this?  Pigs would have rejected it as swill, but even if I were brutally honest and said so, it would only increase business to that miserable hole from people curious to see if things could really be as bad as I’d described.  The only fitting review for it was utter silence, the damnation praise whispered in far corners where only the wind can hear it.  But handing in a blank piece of paper (again) would irritate my editor to the point where my pay-cheque might find itself similarly blank and depressingly unsigned.
“Oh,” said a voice at the other end.  It was tinny and echoey, it sounded like its owner was somewhere cavernous, possibly fornicated.  My thoughts were swept away in an instant to a grand dining room, four stories high where trapeze artists – all french, dressed in form-fitting leotards and possessing moustaches that would take people nostalgically back to the nineteen-twenties despite their having not been born till the nineteen eighties – swung back and forth above the diners as a prandial display of excess that would have delighted the noble heads of Europe.  “Oh, hi!  It’s me!”
I contemplated, for a moment, the idea that maître’d’s might be so accustomed now to my presence in their dining rooms that they expected to be recognised simply by voice and background noise, and reluctantly concluded that that probably wasn’t the case.
“Me who?  Is this about a reservation?” I asked.  Perhaps I had another dinner (on expenses) waiting for me that I could write about instead of the Limbo I’d endured yesterday.
“Oh you silly!  Reservations are for Indians!  It’s Brandy!”
I suppose it’s sexist and old-fashioned but it wasn’t the name that finally brought the face to my mind, but the repeated, breathless exclamations.  Well, that and the realisation that she was serious about the Indians.  It was the Blonde.  Only it wasn’t, it was the Blonde before the Blonde.  The ex-Blonde, though that makes it sound like she changed her hair-colour, or the pre-Blonde, but again we have the hair-colour-change problem but in the other order.  “The Blonde I was dating before the current Blonde” is better, though not perfect, and rather a mouthful.  Calling her the “other Blonde” could only land me in more trouble than I’m probably in for referring to girlfriends as “the Blonde” in the first place, and the apparent tacit admission that I date women based on their hair colour alone (I don’t).  However, the Blonder might well do, as the current Blonde at least knows better than to assume that Reservations mean Indians.
“Hi Blondie,” I said, my mind still trying to reconcile what I should be calling her.
“Brandy, silly!  Hi, look, you still eat food, right?”
“Yes,” I said, wondering where this conversation could possibly be going.  “I’m not dead yet.”
“Oh hee, hee, hee!  You’re still so funny!  Look!” (I resisted the urge to turn my head and look out of the window) “I’m working at Laboutrou now and Jim!  He’s the sales guy!  He’s funny too!  Jim found out that I know you!  Hee, hee, hee!  He asked if you would come and review us!  Isn’t that funny?!”
“Sure,” I said.  “What time’s dinner?”

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Manguy told his secretary that he was off to gym, left his office with his gym bag, but then doubled back when he was out of sight and told the receptionist at the entrance door that he was just coming back from the gym and asked her if he looked presentable for a meeting with Jeremy Diseased-Rat, head of Data Analytics Marketetic Normalisations.  The receptionist, who probably had a name but Manguy hadn’t bothered to ask for it, smiled and said that she thought he looked just fine.  Manguy smiled back and had to duck into the toilets to check exactly how he looked, but it gave him the opportunity to put his gym bag in one of the stalls, lock the door and climb over it, and then sidle out and down the fire-escape stairs to the canteen on the third floor.  There, sat alone at a table that looked out on the London street that their building kept in perpetual shadow, was Margoyle.  She didn’t stand as he approached, but she did push one of the cups in front of her forward an inch-and-a-half towards the chair she expected him to sit in, opposite her.
He sat next to her, and took her cup.  Then he put it back and took the cup she’d offered in the first place.  Then he put that down on the table again.
“It gets to you,” said Margoyle.  “I’ve seen it happen to people higher up the tree than you.  You’re now so paranoid that you think everything had to be at least a triple bluff.  I bet you can’t even hire your own prostitutes any more, can you?”
Manguy took a sip of the coffee from the cup she’d initially offered him, just to prove her wrong, but in the back of his mind a voice was screaming at him that she could have drugged it with anything.  He knew he’d have to go and see his doctor after this.
“Can you?” she pressed, smiling.  It was the smile of a preying mantis, and Manguy knew all about them.  Jeremy Diseased-Rat had a vivarium in his secondary office that contained them, and they’d all spent time watching them when meetings got especially tedious.  If you wanted paranoid, then the CEO of Data Analytics Marketetic Normalisations was the perfect place to start.
“No,” he admitted finally.  The coffee tasted pretty good, dark and bitter with a hint of stone-fruit.  Margoyle sipped her own coffee and smiled too.  “I get a girl to get her pimp to hire another girl.”  Margoyle arched an eyebrow, but Manguy wasn’t biting.  It wasn’t always girls, but he’d revealed enough to Margoyle as it was.  When he said nothing, she sipped her coffee again, studying his face.
“You’re worried about Jeronica,” she said finally.  “Well, that’s not news.  We’re all worried about Jeronica.  She’s climbing the ladder faster than we can explain, and I alone have six analysts working on this.  Stephenotte’s pulling her hair out over this one, and it’s costing her a fortune in wigs to cover it up.  She’s got some trick up her sleeve that none of us have fathomed.”
“Yes,” said Manguy.  “She was the same level as me six months ago, and she wasn’t steady.  I had plans, and they should have worked.  She should be no higher than me still, and I should be in a corner office already.”
Margoyle sniffed.  “Corner offices aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” she said.  “And I rather think I would get one ahead of you, if only because I’m more ruthless.”
Manguy said nothing, as Margoyle would have done if he’d made that claim.  All employees of Data Analytic Marketetic Normalisations were ruthless and psychopathic as it was the only way to progress in a company that made a habit of running the world for other people and not letting anyone else know about it.  He was aware that she’d asphyxiated her last intern when she’d found out that she’d been working for Jeronica on the side, but it hadn’t been enough to get her a promotion at the last meeting.  Of the two that had been promoted, Jeronica still seemed to be a star in the ascendant, and Hille, a small mexican man reputed to train alligators, was dead.  The police reports said that he’d committed suicide, but everyone thought that it had been assisted.  There was a book running on who’d assisted him, and whether they’d find out before the police did.
“So what do we do about Jeronica?”
“I’m waiting for her to fall,” said Margoyle.  “I can afford to play the waiting game.  I’ve got three years on you.”
Manguy cringed, he hated the fact that he was nearly 40.  That age was practically retirement age in a company this cut-throat.  “And me?” he said.  Then he answered his own question, but only to stop Margoyle from thinking that he really didn’t have any answers. “If I push Jeronica down, and I don’t immediately get on top of her, then I’ve just opened the way for the rest of you.  That doesn’t seem like a percentage play to me.  What will the rest of you do to support me here?”
“Nothing,” said Margoyle.  “There’s not enough to be gained, and Jeronica can’t go much higher without the Rat deciding she’s a threat.”
Manguy smiled suddenly and knocked his coffee back like a shot.  It burned the back of his throat, but he controlled his response and didn’t show it.
“That’s it,” he said.  “I shall give Jeronica all the help I can.  Let’s see her work this trick on the Rat himself.”
“By the way,” said Margoyle, casually changing the conversation.  “Did you hear that Stephenotte has taken control of Dentures and Fissure Politics?”
“No,” said Manguy, immediately assuming that Margoyle was lying.  “I did hear that Cathartic Coups might be coming up for grabs in the next two months.  Dimitrion doesn’t seem to know about certain photographs that might have there way to a newspaper.”
“Indiscreet,” said Margoyle.  “Very Dimitrion.”

Friday, 13 September 2013


The Residents’ Association had more posters up, this time for a visit to a hospice in North Wales.  It might have been Wrexham that they intended, but it had quickly been graffitied into Wrecked’em, and a black felt-pen drawing added in case anyone was unsure what was intended.  There were fresh blood stains below the poster outside the Tennant’s Hall – not a social space for the tenants of the estate, in case you were thinking such, but rather the hall once owned by a brewery and now used by the Residents’ Association as a processing hall for all of their business and trips.  I’d heard tell that back in the day when aeroplanes were still available to the public and people went on holidays to other countries, there was a similar set up for entry into America, only it was less invasive and humiliating there.  I honestly found that hard to believe based on the description of the Americas in the history books, and ever since Canada had gone Imperial and started marching south that side of the world was pretty much off limits anyway.  I looked at the blood stains, which were largely still liquid, and decided that it looked like the work of the douchebag scrimshavian, the kid who was currently doing all the douchebag scrimshaw on the estate.  There’d be a stray cat or pack of rats along soon enough to clean it up, so I wandered off before I was spotted as a tasty side-dish.  I hated the estate cats.
I passed by the Tennant’s Hall on the car-park side, though there were never any cars there now unless the Authorities – by which I mean those people who claimed to be looking after our welfare while trying to make sure that we never left the estate – had driven in in some armoured vehicle that could survive having bricks thrown at it and concrete blocks dropped on it from overpasses.  Beyond the car-park, to the left, was a playing field where the summer cricket was held, and in the autumn and winter the football and rugby teams vied for supremacy.  Sometimes at the same time on the same pitch, but not very often.  The rugby players always came off better in those games, and the footballers would retreat for another year to lick their wounds and plan their next offensive.  It was quiet at the moment, with just the rooks pecking at a corpse.  I’d already been over earlier that day to look at that one; it was a woman in her late twenties, no-one I recognised.  I did recognise the marks of the Wild Angels though, and I’d backed away quickly.  I’d survived an encounter with them once and they called me Eloi still when they saw me, but I knew better that to push my luck.  Anywhere on this estate.
As I skirted the field, feeling that it was too risky to walk across it until the corpse was gone, or at least pecked clean, I heard a rustle in the shadows of the undercroft from the building across the way.  It was Building 41.  In the dim and distant past the buildings had all had names, usually those of local politicians who’d either done something to improve the amenities, or whose corruption had resulted in them being embedded in the foundations.  Thirty years back the buildings had all been rechristened with numbers instead, which were considered inoffensive and purely functional, and not drawing attention at all to the insalubrious history of the estate.
The people in Block 69 disagreed that the names were inoffensive, and thirteen weeks after the numbering was made official there wasn’t a living soul in Edifice 13.  No-one’s moved in since either, and even the Wild Angels and the douchebag scrimshavians don’t go there and hang out, or hang around, or even hang people (that’d be mostly the Angels’s doing of course).  Building 41 was one of the rotten ones, though there were more of them than healthy ones.  Damp climbed the walls acrobatically, mould recarpetted rooms overnight, and if you spent the night in there you could listen to the cries of a building that has concrete cancer, and it’s every bit as mortifying as you might think.  The people who lived there were those that had been pushed out from the other buildings, the weak and the ineffectual, the feeble and the feeble-minded.  You might be tempted to feel sorry for them, but that was the first step on the slippery slope to joining them.
The shadows rustled again, and something moved.  My hand went to the scabbard at my hip instantly, and the knife was in my hand, waiting to be drawn a second later.  I carried on walking as though nothing as happened, as nonchalantly as a nightwalker (according the nursery-rhyme; I’ve not found a reference to explain nightwalker to know what one is or was, and why they were nonchalant).  The rustling quieted a little, and I guessed that it was probably the Scavengers.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Wild Angels

The Wild Angels were out hunting.
Sensible people closed their doors tightly and stayed hidden behind them.  The Angels never broke in anywhere, never entered without being invited first.  There was the occasional rumour that the Angels were actually vampires but that was ridiculous.  Vampires don’t exist.
It was nearly dawn and I should have been behind a closed door myself.  I should actually have been in bed sleeping, shivering under a thin blanket and hoping that when I woke up there would magically be more food in the cupboards than I knew there was.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford to buy food, it was just that I could find anywhere to buy food from.  For the five days previously the estate had been on lock-down because the Shakespeariana (highly-educated in the literary arts and more bitter than quinine about their job prospects in the Recession) had staged an attack on the Pantone kids and managed to kill an entire number group.  The Authorities, by which we mean the people with the weapons who think we should stay quiet and die peacefully and picturesquely so we can be recorded in history as a desperate and tragic underclass, immediately put the estate under lock-down to avoid retaliation.  Which worked, but there was no sign of the lock-down ending, and we were effectively besieged.
I was woken by the strange high cries of the Wild Angels, and realised almost immediately that they were celebrating.  That could only mean that they’d made a kill, and a righteous one at that.  The thought struck me like a nail: a righteous kill at the moment for the Wild Angels must mean that they’d breached the perimeter of the estate.  The lock-down must have a hole in it until the incident was discovered.  There was a chance to get out of the estate and find food.
I didn’t want to go, but I wasn’t really under my own control.  My brain switched off input from the rational side and launched me out of bed and into the wardrobe like a marionette with cut strings.  I was wearing the most ridiculous mish-mash of clothing, much of it from two decades earlier when we still had a Press to produce fashion advice and fashion magazines, instead of today’s bland, televised fascion with its obsession with jackboots and close-fitting, military style garments.  I staggered, half-dazed from the wardrobe and managed to remember to lock my front-door behind me before I set off in the direction of the whooping cries.  The rational part of my brain was screaming at me that it was suicide to try and find a Wild Angel, but the starved, animal part of my brain was willing to try anything to get food.
I saw the bodies first.  There were three of them, slumped over a howitzer that looked like it had ammunition enough to bring down an entire tower-block, and that would destroy over half of the estate when it fell.  Their clothes – black, form-fitting, functional fascion – were torn almost to strips, revealing that their underwear (also torn to strips) was as uninteresting and uncomfortable as their outerwear.  The howitzer was jammed with something, and as I tottered past I realised that it was the heads of the soldiers that had been forced into it.  I hoped that the heads had been removed first, but either image made me feel ill.
Something howled behind me like a fox on heat.  I froze, even the animal part of my brain responding instinctively to a noise that primal.  There was the whisper of soft fabric, the snick of a knife and the kiss of  a breath of cool air on my cheek.  Then a hand cupped my jaw, and turned my head.
“Angels, look!” The voice was high and beautiful and I wished it were mine.  The breathe was hot and foetid though, and I tried not to swallow.  “Angels, the Eloi have awoken!  They run to join us!”
I hoped that the Eloi were less bloodthirsty than the Wild Angels, or, if not, less inclined to play with their food.
“Tell me, Eloi,” and the Angel shook my head with its hand, “where are the rest of you?”
I was the Eloi?
“Just me,” I managed, though it hurt to speak with my jaw held so firmly.  “Just me.  I went for food.”
“Brave Eloi,” said a voice behind me that sound so deep and full and gorgeous that I could feel the first tingle of an orgasm from listening to it.  I knew that they used technology to augment their voices, but it made no difference when you heard it.  You could know that they ate babies and it wouldn’t stop you loving the sound of them.  “Let it run, sweet Angels.  The siege is broken, let it carry the standard.”
A flag was pressed into my hand, and my fingers gripped it numbly.  It sounded like I was going to be let go, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  Better to resign myself to death amongst the Angels.
“Run now, and proclaim that the Angels have judged,” said the deep voice again, and I quivered all over.  I did run though, when they let go of my head.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Douchebag scrimshaw

The estate was lively now that dusk had fallen.  The concrete monstrosities that a previous government had erected in the hopes that they’d be mistaken for homes towered above us, and on the skyline, not that far removed, cranes were silhouetted against the last of the light, building more expensive architecture for people with a better view and better prospects.  But people buzzed and hummed around, made happier by the shadows that concealed the prison-like surroundings, and in many cases faces and skins damaged by substandard living in corner-cut housing.  There were conversation going on around me that I idly eavesdropped on.
“Look bruv, I got the new Dulux tones.  I reckon I’m dusky rose, whatta ya think?”
“Bruv!  You can’t say dat!”
“Bruv, what?  My skin like, it’s either Dusky Rose or Bladderwrack Beige, and I think it’s closer to the Dusky Rose.”  The speaker, a kid with brownish-grey skin and acne, held a piece of laminated plastic against his cheek.
“Bruv, dis is a Pantone manor.  You can’t go bringing no Dulux Tones round here!”
“Aw shit, man.”
I stopped listening, transported for a moment back to the day, three years ago, when the Residents Association had knocked on my front door.  I’d answered with my hands covered in worming powder and the dogs barking in the kitchen, and they’d looked a little taken aback.
“We’re here about your sign,” they’d said, all three of them speaking in unison.  I figured they must practice after their meetings.  “Um, is everything alright?”
I waved my hands theatrically.  “Cocaine orgy,” I said.  “The dogs are too keep the unwanted out.”
“Oh.  Well, your sign.”
“What about it?”  I was genuinely puzzled, it was a small rectangular plaque for the postman that simply read “No circulars, junk-mail or anything targeting marketing groups B and below.”   Well, ok, it wasn’t that small, but you did have to get at least ten feet away to be able to read it.
“The font you’ve chosen is inappropriate.  We did issue you a list of fonts when you moved in.  They were all pre-approved, and you could have come to any of our meetings and submitted your choice of a new font for approval.”  They were still talking in unison, and it was getting very disconcerting.  The dogs were barking louder too, and the worming powder was making my hands itch.
“Sure,” I said, wanting to be rid of them.  “I’ll get it changed.  Any preferences?”
“We like Bodoni,” they said instantly, and I nodded and closed the door.
The kids with the designer skin tones and sheep skin-diseases had wandered off while I reminisced, and so I moved on a little, leaning against a supporting column here, a wall there, reading the graffiti and checking the Resident’s Association notice board.  Apparently they were organising a coach trip to a work-house; work-houses had come back into vogue again after the fourth consecutive recession and the imposition of austerity cuts on anyone too poor to be able to buy their way out of them.  Then I rounded a corner and found myself just outside the circle of light cast by a oil-drum fire.
Around the oil-drum concentrating hard, were three teenagers, gaunt and skinny to a man.  One of them was being supported by another, his head lolling slightly, his tongue protruding from between teeth so white they had to be dentures, and his eyes rolled back in his head.  The other one was working with a knife on his arm.
It was douchebag scrimshaw, I recognised it instantly.  The arm had been laid open from just below the elbow to just above the wrist and pinned to a board while the kid with a knife carved the living bone.  He was working fast, but he had to.  They’d have called the ambulance before they started, and he needed to get the bone carved and the arm stapled back up before the paramedics got there.  They’d be slow and late because it was this estate and they didn’t like coming out here.  They liked taking any of us out of here even less, but they still did their job, and an arm as mangled as this needed the hospital and a blood transfusion on the way.  The kid getting it done looked like he’d been given some drugs this time; too often they just relied on the recipient passing out when the pain from having his or her arm opened up kicked in.  Sometimes they didn’t pass out, which was a serious merit badge on the estate.  Sometimes they didn’t survive.  There was a memorial garden for them that the scrimshaw kids thought no-one knew about.
I stepped backwards and back around the corner again.  It was a weird little scene they had going on.  They would pick and carve at the scar they got from the stitching too, shaping it to look like the carving on the bone beneath so that people would know what they’d had done.  All things considered I preferred the Pantone kids with their obsession with being able to assign a number to anyone based on their skin tone.  I was still trying to figure out how the hierarchy of numbers went after that, but at least they didn’t seem to kill anyone regularly.
Well, less regularly, anyway.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Our Lady of the Rocks II

“So what’s the problem?”  Matson didn’t bother to conceal his yawn.  “I did silence the plane, although it’s technically against regulations, but I still can’t sleep properly in those seats.  I want my bed, boy.”
Leonard was reasonably certain that, despite appearances, he was nearly ten years older than Professor Matson, and the boy bridled a little, but he was beginning to appreciate that perhaps he’d never appreciated Professor Matson before.  “You silenced a whole plane?  How many people was that?”
“About two hundred.  I’ve had bigger audiences for lectures, so it’s not a big deal.  Now what’s the problem?  Spit it out, I’m leaving in two minutes.”
“I need a letter of referral from you,” said Leonard, getting straight to the point.
“For who, for what reason, to where?”
“For a man who has no eyes, and no obvious reason for having lost them,” said Leonard.  “To a place I’m told is a hospital of some kind, called Our Lady of the Rocks, and because there are people there who might be the only people who can help him now.”
Professor Matson sat in silence for a moment, and Leonard suddenly realised that he had mismatched eyes; one was green and one was blue.  Matson steepled his fingers together and leaned back in the chair, resting his chin and nose on his fingers.  When he spoke his fingers jerked as his mouth moved, and it looked rather odd.
“Belladonna is Our Lady of the Rocks,” he said.  “She’s kind of the opposite of a goddess for drowning sailors; instead of beseeching her to save them, or bring them driftwood, or wash them ashore, they pray to her that the ocean take them instead.  She’s rather darkly aspected most of the time.  You won’t have come across her much in the standard literature, she’s pretty much only discussed on stone tablets and temple inscriptions, and there are many scholars who think that she’s immoral and shouldn’t be discussed anyway.”
“Can people call themselves scholars if they think that?”
“Certainly.  Especially when their tradition of scholarship is deeply intertwined with their religion and their holy book explicitly deals in morality and ethics.”
“She’s not European then?”
“Hard to say.  But she is Our Lady of the Rocks, and the building with that name is more of hospice than a hospital, as you might now have guessed.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A hospital seeks to cure you, a hospice seeks to make you comfortable while you die.  It’s an oversimplification of course, but I’m tired and want my bed.  There are six beds and one nurse at this hospice, and I believe only three of the beds are filled, so there will be space for your patient.  How did he come to lose his eyesight?”
“Not his eyesight, his eyes.  We don’t know.  He is lucid, but when we ask him about it he gets a bit hysterical.  There seems to have been some woman he approached, or who approached him; it’s not clear from what he’s saying.  Either way, he seems to have spent an evening drinking with her, and then left with her in a taxi.  And at some point during that journey she removed his eyes and left him.  The taxi driver seems to have panicked and dumped him at the side of the road and driven off.  The police were called by some students passing by who’d been out clubbing, and then he made his way to us through the usual channels.”
“Ah.”  Professor Matson unsteepled his fingers and suddenly looked very tired indeed.  “I’ll write you your letter now, if you have pen and paper?”  Leonard passed them across the table.  “You have a bigger worry, I think, Leonard.  The people in the hospice are academics; they’re people who research… well, the kinds of things that we then un-research if you like.  They are all people who’ve studied a device called the Silver Carillon that was returned from an expedition that may or may not have ventured on to the Plains of Leng.  This device appears to steal senses from people who learn how to use it; sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.  After that it steals something else that leaves them a semi-comatose husk.  However, it doesn’t take their eyes or their ears or their nose.  But there are creatures that do, and they are called the Ilmatu.  And they are normally confined to the far north of the world, as they are creatures of ice and cold.  If you have one on the loose down here now, that will be a serious problem, and it will have to be contained.  I suggest you contact an old friend of the department’s and talk to her.  Because you will need her help.   There you go.”  He pushed the letter across the table and stood up.
“What’s her name?” asked Leonard, reading the letter.  It seemed all in order.
“Isabella Bonfontaine.”

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Our Lady of the Rocks I

There was a thump as someone tried to open the door to Leonard’s office, clearly expecting it to be unlocked.  Leonard jumped, then smiled.  He sat down in his chair and pressed the intercom button, which buzzed for a moment.
“Sir, there’s a man here,” said a frantic sounding male voice before the intercom cut off.  Leonard pushed the speak button this time.  “It’s fine, it’ll be Professor Matson,” he said.  “The door is open.”  He pushed the door unlock button next, and a few seconds later the door opened, more cautiously as though the opener were expecting a practical joke to be played.  When the door was clearly opening it sped up, and bounced off the door-stop that protected the wall.  In the doorway was a frail-looking elderly man who surely couldn’t have pushed the door open like that, or caused the original thump.
“Professor Matson,” said Leonard standing up and offering his hand.  Matson glared at him, and walked briskly across the room, his speed and gait completely at odds with his delicate appearance.  He sat down in the visitor’s chair ignoring Leonard’s outstretched hand.  Leonard maintained his smile, dropped his hand, and sat back down as well.
“I’m sorry about the door,” he said.  “Apparently there’s a degree of extra security comes with promotion; none of the offices in this building can be entered without a keycard or someone inside the office unlocking the door first.  The first week I was in here I forgot my keycard twice and ended up spending the day sat with my PA outside my own office like some kind of naughty schoolboy!”
“It seems disrespectful to me,” said Professor Matson.
“Oh surely not,” said Leonard quickly.  “You do have to be quite senior to get one of these offices.”
“No, I mean it seems to be disrespecting me,” said Matson.  “Why should I have to knock on anyone’s door?  It’s not like I come here unless you’ve specifically asked for my help, Leonard, is it?”
Leonard paused for a moment, wondering how Matson managed to turn the conversation around so easily, and then recovered.  “I did ask for your help three days ago, Professor.”
“And would you door have been magically unlocked for me then?”
Leonard shuffled in his seat.  There had to be a trick to the way that Matson did it, but he’d still not figured out what it was, other than deeply irritating.
“Never mind the door, can you help me?  I was definitely hoping that you’d appreciate the urgency of the message and come a little sooner.”
“I got your message this morning and came straight over, to walk into your locked door.  As you must have known, if it was that urgent, I was in San Francisco until last night.  Three hours ago I was still on a plane.”
“Ah, I didn’t think to check…,” Leonard paused again.  Hadn’t he checked?  He was almost sure that he had, but Matson didn’t lie about these things.  And with this promotion he was finally aware of a lot more of what the department did and he did know what had been going on in San Francisco.  The biggest shock to him had been when he realised what Professor Matson’s job actually was; it explained all of his sudden and awkward absences, his complete lack of a life outside of the office, and some of his more worrying mannerisms.  And his utter immunity to censure.
“Never mind, Leonard.  Tell me what the problem is and I’ll tell you what I know.  I gather you’ve got the appropriate security clearance these days?”
Leonard pulled a small plastic card from his pocket and silently offered it across the table.  Professor Matson rested his hand on his for a moment and then nodded.
“They don’t make them like they used to,” he said.  He pulled a lucky rabbit’s foot from his own pocket and set it on the desk.  “That’s mine, forty years old I think,” he said.
Leonard reached over and rested his fingers on it, expecting this to be a practical joke.  To his shock the foot twitched, and then kicked.  He pulled his fingers back, but the rest of the rabbit still appeared, traced in the air by a tiny glowing dot, and it turned to look at him.  Something deep in the rabbit’s eyes seemed to explode, and Leonard instantly knew what Matson’s clearance was, and it was terrifying.
“Shit,” he said, as the rabbit faded away.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Hi!  I’m Buddy, your corporate and spiritual guru.  I’ve been assigned to you by HR after last week’s little… incident?  Perhaps we could charitably call it an accident.
Of course you have a choice.  The email from HR is sat in your Inbox, where you’ve been ignoring it for the last three days.  Well, haven’t you heard of read-receipts?  Yes, well the system we use doesn’t require a mail to be sent back, it recognises that you’ve opened the mail in another way.  Then it uses the built-in camera to monitor your eye movements and work out how much of the email you read and how carefully you paid attention to it.  No, the laptop is company issue and you’re required to use it for all company activities.  It does say so in your contract.  HR are aware that you didn’t read that either.
Actually yes, the NSA has been reading all of your mail.  We were more intrigued by the people who’s mail it turned out they weren’t reading.  But you’ve not got security clearance to know any more than that.  And you’re not to talk to Jishra in Accounting any more either.
Ok, breathing is a good start.  You should work on unclenching your fists too, and grinding your teeth, while popular, will probably upset your dentist.  That’s right, breathe in.  More slowly.  More slowly.  Well most people can manage quite a lot more slowly than that, it sounds like you’re channelling a steam train on a steep incline.  I can provide a mantra for you to recite in your – well, generally if you’re going to speak them out loud they should be less offensive.
Actually that is exactly why HR felt that you could use a little guidance.
Well, my first task is to perform a tofectomy.  Um, could you put that down please?  It’s clearly not what you think it is.  A tofectomy is simply the removal of tofu from your food.  We’ve noticed that you eat it rather a lot, and it’s causing a number of problems.
Enumerating people’s faults rarel – ok.  OK.  Put that down please.  Yes, in the drawer is good.  Can you close the drawer now?  That’s even better.
Fine, the problems form a trinity: first your body does not react well to tofu.  The smells you create are unpleasant, persistent, and allegedly require dry-cleaning to eradicate.  Second, you’re making tofu in the kitchen, which shows a healthy independent streak, a concern for your health, and some admirable innovation, but it’s a fermented product and it stinks.  Worse than you.  And third, tofu is known to contain aromatising substances, and it’s reaching the point where customers don’t know how to address you.  Well, a hair-cut would possibly help, but cutting down on the tofu would help more.  And maybe a short course of steroids.
Illegal is a tricky word.  It’s only illegal if you get caught, after all.  Yes, that does look very much like a prescription pad, doesn’t it?  How coincidental!  In fact, the company has a small R&D arm in the chemicals division and they could use some volunteers.  That gets round the illegality issue, and makes you look like a team player in one fell swoop.
Well, last week’s little accident….  No, no you definitely don’t look like a team player at the moment.  No.  No.  Upper management currently think you’re like the guy who stabbed the tennis player who grunted a lot.  Well, maybe guy.  I think she grunted a lot before she was stabbed, now you ask, but I realise I might have to check that to be certain.
Wikipedia??  And you were wondering why the NSA was reading your mail….
So, the tofectomy.  What?  No, I don’t believe that you’re allergic to everything else.  Considering what you put on the tofu to mask the lack of flavour in the first place, I don’t think there’s much you can be allergic to.  Possibly just tofu, in fact.
That hot sauce contains fifty different ingredients, three of which aren’t listed because you wouldn’t eat it if you knew about them.  And by the way, the permitted level of insect parts for that sauce definitely exceeds your RDA for spider legs and fly wings.  Well no, there’s no guarantee that they’re in there, but given how cheap they are, the manufacturer would be mad not to have them in the base already.
Why would I be vegan?  No, I’m Buddy.  I eat what I please, but I make sure I’m suitably sorry about it.  No, I don’t eat tofu, and I’m not sorry about that either.  Now hand over that tofacon sandwich and let’s get this intervention started!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Morning near Gondwyn

Despite the noise they and the burning Trabbits had made, and despite that the Trabbits were still burning, though no longer running around or screaming, Hamfries was still asleep.  Mahaven kicked him in disgust as he stalked past to his own bedroll, and even then Hamfries barely stirred in his sleep.  Mojo had to go and shake him vigorously before his eyes finally opened and he yawned.  Mojo recoiled; Hamfries’s breath was bad at the best of times, but after most of a night’s sleep it was as bad as the stench in a charnel-house.
“Umph?” said Hamfries, trying to roll over and wrap himself tighter in his blanket.  Mojo kept a hand over his mouth and pulled Hamfries back towards him with the other. 
“Your watch,” he said, his words muffled.
“Mmmph.” said Hamfries.
It took nearly ten minutes to get Hamfries awake enough to understand what was going on, and then he settled down to watch with a slight smile on his face.  Mojo knew that he would keep himself awake by reciting the tales of the Acts to himself – he’d learned to fall asleep listening to Hamfries’s whispered soliloquies, and so wrapped himself in his own blanket – thicker than anyone else’s save Bulrug’s – in the anticipation of being asleep quickly.
“Why are there burning Trabbits out there?” asked Hamfries suddenly.
“Tell you in the morning,” said Mojo, and fell asleep.
Hamfries woke them at dawn, though it felt too early to Mojo.  He shrugged out of his blanket and flung it over the branch of a nearby tree to let the dew drip off it.  Then he looked around, wondering which of the waterfalls would have produced the closest tributary.  He tried to listen for the the giggle of running water, but the white noise of the many waterfalls around the gate drowned any such out.  He looked around, but the landscape offered no clues either, so with a sigh he realised that he’d have to just go and look for himself.
“I’ll find water,” he said.  He looked around again, but there was still no helpful signpost.  “I’ll try this way.”  He pointed.
“Wait,” said Bulrug.  He was sitting on his blanket still, massaging his calves.  “How do you know that there’s water that way?  And why don’t we have any already?”
“You drank it all last night,” said Mahaven.  “After it got dark.  You were saying something about the Brandy of the Narwhal, and that got Hamfries started on Act 17.  I’ve had better evenings, you know.”
“Bugger,” said Bulrug.  He looked down, which meant that his entire face disappeared into his beard and he looked more like a beaver than anything else.  “Right, hang on then.”
He got to his feet and stamped them a couple of times, wincing.  “Cramp,” he said.  “Dunno where it comes from really.”  Then he lifted his hands and looked up into the sky.  For a moment nothing happened, and then a wind arose from nowhere and darted around them, tugging at their clothes and making Mojo’s blanket swing and stream like a flag.  Then it dropped again.
“That way,” he said, pointing about ninety degrees off to where Mojo had pointed.  “The wind reckons that it should be about a five minute walk for you, once it understood what legs were.  You didn’t make a bad guess though.”
“Huh?” Mojo looked at Bulrug; he’d been rather hoping that the weather-mage would bring the water to them somehow.
“You’d have got to water a bit faster your way, but apparently it’s about eight hundred feet straight down.  Not sure what your plan was for getting back up again.”
Mahaven giggled, and Hamfries smiled; Mojo forced a smile on his face.  “Yeah, that’s quite a climb for first thing in the morning,” he said.  “Fine, I’ll go and get water then.  Someone want to get a fire started?  We’ve got a long way to go still and I could use something hot to get us started.”